Shredded money abounds at this year’s Spring/Break, an art fair with a focus on curators rather than galleries. It appears in several artists’ work—as the bristles of a broom in Mark Wagner’s Very Expensive Push Broom (2008), stuffed into a Plexiglas chest in Harriet Bart’s The Reserve (2010), neatly packed like weed in dime bags by J. Robert Feld, in the form of Abstract Expressionist brushstrokes in the Bazaar Teens’ “The Riches of God’s Love Unto the Vessels of Mercy” paintings (2015). Of course, Spring/Break is still an art fair, and its works are meant to sell. But if those money works are any proof, it’s also a fair about the economics of art—it plays within the system while also fighting against it. (Booths are free, but the fair takes a cut of sales.) Its loose theme this year is, fittingly, “Transaction.”
For its fourth edition, Spring/Break has relocated from an abandoned school in Nolita to the third and fourth floors of Midtown’s Moynihan Station, which used to be a post office and will ultimately become an annex to Penn Station. The space is decrepit. In one gallery, water started coming in from the ceiling. Laughing to her friend on the phone, the curator there called it an “apple juice leak,” referring to its brownish color. It’s that kind of fair. In some strange way, Midtown is a better fit for Spring/Break, harkening back in spirit to 1980’s storied “Times Square Art Show,” another passionate, occasionally gross celebration of art.
Almost all of the work is contemporary, but here and there, art from a few decades ago sneaks in. One of the better mini-exhibitions is a Barry Frier-curated selection of work from the collection of Alexis Adler, an ex-girlfriend of Jean-Michael Basquiat. These angry, seemingly unfinished drawings and letters are a treat. In one, done on hole-punched graph paper, Basquiat carefully wrote “NON/DESCRIPT WHITE MALE IN HIS THIRTIES” above a crudely drawn, noseless man.
A sense of late-’70s, early-’80s angst permeates the fair. Money appears again in JaZon Frings’ “Zederal Reserve” works, a faux exchange service that will take your dollars and give you new currency with Rosie the Riveter, Mickey Mouse, and Social Realist images on it. You can take one home for exactly $1. There are also prints of bills with images of Titian’s La Giocanda and Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergère on them. Incisively connecting art and money, they feel a lot like something a young Hans Haacke would have done.
An anti-yuppie feeling is also present. Fall on Your Sword’s Greed is Good (2015), an installation whose title refers to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, literally yells at its viewers. “That’s the thing you gotta understand about WASPs,” the man in a video says. “They love animals, but they hate people.” A circle of empty, uncorked champagne bottles spins around the video. Then there’s the Dustin Yellin-curated Bazaar Teens installation, a trash-filled set of rooms that looks like an apartment from the ’80s overrun by the homeless. One room looks like a disheveled home office; another’s floor is lined with Styrofoam and features a makeshift fountain that spews coffee. Open a closet door, and you’ll find a piece of cardboard covered in shipping tape with “MONEY study 1” scrawled on it in Sharpie. It creeped me out, though I couldn’t quite figure out why.
Some works were familiar. Ryder Ripps’ paintings from his recent “Ho” exhibition at Postmasters Gallery, McKendree Kee and William Lamson’s videos from the Brooklyn Museum’s recent “Crossing Brooklyn” show, and one of Deborah Kass’s “Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times” were just a few of the works visitors may have seen before. That said, a great deal of the work is by relatively unknown artists, which is a nice change from some other fairs.
Like a middle finger to the Armory Show’s obsession with shiny, reflective objects and consumerist attitude, this year’s Spring/Break is all about trash and making friends. (Take Wyatt Burns’s Fair Trade/Kool-Aid, a Donald Judd-like stack of Brita filters that overflow with Kool-Aid instead of water, presented with cups on the side—free for the drinking.) The curators are friendly, and do not seem particularly intent on selling. The artists are present, talking about their work. Strangers mingle. When I walked into one gallery, a curator from the booth across the hall walked in and announced, “We think we may have sold something.” Then, with a smile, he added, “We’re not sure.”
SLIDESHOW PHOTOS: ©2015 MAXIMILÍANO DURÓN